Indecent Practices and Erotic Trance:
Making Sense of Tantra
Longing in Sahajiya
Dimock believes that the meeting between Caitanya and Ramananda was constructed by the biographer Krishnadasa in order to make Caitanya into a saint whose life agreed with Krishnadasa's own Sahajiya faith.
The Sahajiya movement "was dedicated to . . . the transmutation of sexual pleasure into transcendental bliss," particularly "with a woman other than one's wife" (Feuerstein, 1990). "Sahaja literally means `easy or natural': the natural qualities of the senses should be used, not denied" (Dimock, 1989: 35). We saw an example of this in Chapter One, where Eliade described how the Sahajiya practitioner acts as a servant to his future yogic consort, sleeping at the foot of her bed, on her left side, etc. Caitanya's influential disciple, Ramananda, practiced a variation on this theme in that he kept two girls "of surpassing beauty," who were skilled in dance and song, whom he would treat in a somewhat intimate fashion, bathing and dressing them, rubbing their bodies with oil, etc. But, the text says, he abstained from sexual intercourse with them. . . . "His passion was the same at the touch of a piece of wood or stone as it was at the touch of a young woman: such was the nature of Ramananda Raya. He played the role of servant to them" (Dimock, 1989: 53-4).
We might be somewhat skeptical of the "piece of wood" claim. Surely Ramananda's goal must have been the "autonomization of sensual pleasure -- regarded as the sole human experience capable of bringing about nirvanic bliss" that Eliade describes. But we would have to understand this practice on the model of carezza, where one's physiology is overcome for the sake of entering trance. Ramananda, although outwardly he acted cool, must have been seeking to increase his longing, arousing his sexual desire so as to turn pleasure (kama) into divine love (prema). Only this would account for the fact that his meeting with Caitanya resulted in a disturbing increase in the madness of Caitanya's longing, strengthening his identification with Radha, and making the Krishna he inwardly was the unattainable object of his maddened desire (viraha).
The Sahajiya discovered that chastity -- especially in the face of extreme temptation, such as that posed by Ramananda's dancing girls -- formed a useful barrier to easy union, increasing one's longing and thereby purifying one's desire (Dimock, 1989: 53). Because Caitanya's biographer was a follower of Sahajiya, he wants us to believe that Caitanya united Radha and Krishna only in a state of extreme longing in which he lost his orientation in the world of space and time -- lost his ego -- in the madness of Radha who could never get near enough to her beloved Krishna. This is the Caitanya of Bengali faith, the only Caitanya we have.
The wild enthusiasm and depressed longing of Caitanya had a cosmic dimension as well. For Caitanya followed his mother's wishes, settling far from Krishna's forest of Vrindavana, and spent his life longing to be in that place where Radha and Krishna enjoyed their eternal love play. In his divine erotic trance, however, he found an "eternal Vrindavana," "the place of the hidden moon," within himself.  By his longing, he turned himself into an image of the universe, a microcosm which contained Vrindavana. In the universe at large (the macrocosm) "a stream of rasa flows perpetually from the eternal Vrndavana to earth, manifested as a stream of rasa flowing to and between men and women" (Dimock, 1989: 168). The human body mirrors the cosmos on a small scale, with hell located in the sexual organs at the bottom and the heaven of "pure consciousness, truth, and bliss -- the brain -- at the highest" point (Ibid., 170).
The idea that the juice  of desire (rasa) is both the driving force of the universe and of our own sexual/mystical selves will not be understood if we think that it is merely a theological proposition, handed down from detached philosophers and required of ordinary believers who have barely a clue as to its meaning -- much as we might look upon the virginity of the mother of Jesus or the infallibility of the pope. We come closer to understanding it if we think that the image of cosmic juice forces itself upon those who stand on the diamond ladder's rung of longing. It is unquestionably a manifestation of kundalini, the life-energy of the body-soul that surges up and overwhelms the ego.
The longing that we Westerners are exposed to when we practice carezza inspires us also to speak of "liquid energy" and makes us think that we have had the merest taste (rasa) of cosmic unity. For we have slipped out of our skin and feel the waves of arousal moving through our partner's body -- almost, but not quite, the same as we feel our own. We may try to discard such impressions, saying: "For a moment there, I almost thought I was feeling what you are feeling. Isn't that crazy?" A serious challenge is posed to our consensus view of the world -- the picture we have to follow if we are to get to work on time, or perhaps at all.
The religious cosmos entered through erotic trance convinces us by its numinosity, the terrible power of kundalini. When we enter the subtle plane, we find ourselves in the grip of unthinkable forces; and we have no choice but to believe. We believe involuntarily. In fact, the word believe fails to do justice to our experience, for it has a pious and tentative connotation. It makes us think of fuzzy platitudes and dogmas laid down from on high. In the state of erotic trance, by contrast, we do not feel we "believe": we simply know. We know with a conviction that is unassailable. When we say, "For a moment there, I almost thought . . . ," we reveal that the trance has ended. We have returned to the profane world of consensus reality, where the religious cosmos is only a pious rumor.
The religious longing of Caitanya and his followers has to be understood as a distinctive state of mind attainable by anyone who enters fully into the longing that becomes available on the step located above carezza on the diamond ladder. In that state there is no doubt of the proximity of Krishna, the erotic lord of a love that cannot be contained within the strictures of wedlock. This is why it is important that the Gopis are married. They have risked everything in consensus reality on the strength of a longing that brings a higher reality to presence. Faithfulness to one's divine lord is not a matter of contract, propagation of the species, or "social cement." It constitutes an irresistible pull whose madness is anti-social and an affront to consensus reality. The verticality of the ladder triumphs over horizontal common sense. One is drawn into the sacred sphere, where the rupture between human and divine is analogous to that between male and female -- and the longing of the one symbolizes and incarnates the desperation of the other.
Erotic longing is a psychological reality that no one escapes. It may indeed be construed as a sort of imbalance and pathology that cries out for psychiatric treatment. But Ramamanda's message to Caitanya is that such insane longing is pathological only from the conventional point of view. Give yourself over to it and the divine realm will open itself to you. You will find the juice of desire that fills your body is the same as that which moves the cosmic spheres. Krishna is dancing with his Radha. Close your eyes to that and you have missed the essential point; you have chosen empirical seeming over divine reality. The madness of your trance is your opportunity to bring the profane world to a stop and avail yourself of a greater reality.